How to Describe a Smile in Different Ways

, Staff Writer
Updated August 26, 2020
girl smiling with her dog
    girl smiling with her dog
    Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

A smile can mean different things, and knowing how to describe a smile precisely and vividly can take your writing to a new level. When you describe not just that someone is smiling, but how they are smiling, you create a more powerful image for your reader. Learn how to write about different kinds of smiles.

How to Describe a Beautiful, Happy Smile

The best smiles are beautiful and open. They connote happiness and good nature. Whether you’re describing a fictional character or writing a piece of creative nonfiction, these descriptions can help.

  • affectionate - a smile that shows the love a person feels for someone or something
  • approving - a smile that indicates a person is in favor of something
  • beaming - the kind of smile that seems to radiate happiness
  • bright - an energetic smile that shows intelligence
  • brilliant - a very high-energy, happy smile
  • broad - a wide smile that shows great happiness
  • charming - a smile that shows the person is trying to make a good impression
  • cheerful - an energetic and happy smile
  • compassionate - a smile that shows empathy
  • dazzling - a beautiful smile that has an almost stunning effect on others
  • encouraging - a smile that shows support for another
  • enthusiastic - an excited and up-for-anything smile
  • friendly - a smile that shows openness and kindness
  • gentle - a tender, unthreatening smile
  • genuine - a real smile, free from pretenses
  • infectious - a smile that makes other people smile too
  • innocent - a guilt-free smile
  • irresistible - a smile that draws other people
  • placid - a peaceful and happy smile
  • playful - a smile with a glint of mischief and fun
  • pleased - a smile of satisfaction
  • radiant - the kind of smile that seems to glow
  • reassuring - a smile that comforts someone who is uncertain or afraid
  • sweet - a simple, purely happy smile
  • soft - the kind of smile that shows quiet affection or appreciation
  • sunny - a bright and happy smile
  • tender - a smile that indicates sensitivity and kindness
  • warm - the kind of smile that makes other people happy
  • welcoming - an inviting and open smile
  • winsome - a smile that is childlike and charming

How to Describe a Complicated Smile

Many smiles are more than simply happy or excited. A lot can happen beneath the surface. Try using adjectives that describe tone or feelings. You can describe more nuanced emotions with these words.

  • cold - a smile that shows no kindness or empathy
  • condescending - a smile that indicates a person is looking down on someone
  • cruel - a smile that indicates evil motives
  • dazed - a smile that shows the person is confused and possibly dizzy
  • devilish - a smile with mischief and sometimes evil intent
  • dry - the kind of smile that doesn’t include warmth or excitement
  • enigmatic - a mysterious smile
  • evil - a smile that shows nothing good or kind
  • feeble - a very weak smile
  • fixed - the kind of smile that doesn’t move and therefore appears artificial
  • forced - a smile that is purposeful and often fake
  • furtive - a smile that indicates suspicious motives
  • grave - a very serious smile
  • grim - the type of smile that indicates nothing good is happening
  • haughty - a smile showing hubris or arrogance
  • helpless - a smile that is weak
  • ingratiating - the type of smile that shows someone is trying to curry favor with others
  • insolent - a disrespectful type of smile
  • ironic - the kind of smile that shows someone sees the irony in a situation
  • malicious - an evil smile that shows bad intent
  • malignant - a smile that indicates a dangerous disposition
  • meek - a smile that shows a lack of confidence
  • melancholy - a sad smile
  • mocking - the type of smile that makes fun of someone or accompanies some type of bullying
  • mournful - a smile that include a tinge of grief
  • mysterious - the type of smile that indicates there are things unsaid
  • oily - a supercilious, insincere smile
  • reluctant - the kind of smile that doesn’t come easily
  • rueful - a smile that shows remorse or regret
  • sarcastic - a smile that indicates something negative under the surface
  • sardonic - a smile that mocks in a negative way
  • scornful - the type of smile that shows deep dislike
  • shy - a smile that is hesitant and self-conscious
  • slight - a very subtle smile
  • smug - a smile that indicates self-satisfaction
  • sober - the kind of smile that is not playful or excited
  • strained - a tense smile
  • strange - the type of smile that shows something else is going on
  • stony - a smile that is cold and resistant
  • thin - a tight-lipped smile
  • timid - a hesitant and fearful smile
  • tremulous - a smile that is uncertain and wobbly, perhaps after tears
  • triumphant - a smile that shows self-satisfaction without arrogance
  • ugly - a smile that indicates evil or negative emotions beneath the surface
  • vague - the type of smile that shows someone is disengaged
  • weak - a smile that is very slight
  • weird - the type of smile that indicates some strong negative emotions
  • wicked - an evil smile
  • wistful - the kind of smile that indicates a sadness or nostalgic feeling
  • wry - a witty smile, sometimes scornful

More Words to Describe a Smile

Smiles can mean many things and take on different emotional significance. Here are some more good words to describe specific kinds of smiles.

  • amused - a smile showing something is funny
  • crooked - the type of smile showing crooked teeth or an awkward emotional state
  • knowing - a smile that shows the person understands something
  • mischievous - a playful and fun smile
  • quiet - a smile that communicates without words
  • quick - an easy smile that seems effortless
  • rusty - a smile that seems awkward from disuse
  • sudden - the kind of smile that happens without warning
  • vacant - a smile that shows someone’s mind is elsewhere

How to Describe Lips in a Smile

Because a smile mostly involves the mouth, the lips are the most important facial features to include in a description. You can use some of these words to describe them.

  • chapped - lips that are dry and peeling
  • cracked - lips that have cracked from dryness or damage
  • moist - lips that have been licked
  • plump - lips with a full shape, often belonging to a woman or child
  • thin - lips with a flat, constricted shape
  • tight - lips that are tense and hiding emotion

Using a Simile or Metaphor to Describe a Smile

Another great way to describe a smile is to use a simile or metaphor. Look at examples of similes to see how to make a comparison using like or as. Then look at metaphor examples for more inspiration.

To create your own smile simile or metaphor, choose an adjective to describe the smile and then choose an image that typifies the adjective. Alternatively, you can make a direct comparison with the smile or with a verb that describes it. You can see how with these smile simile and metaphor examples.

  • Her smile was as cold and lovely as frost on a windowpane.
  • His smile was like a sudden beam of sunlight illuminating the darkest corners of the room.
  • Her smile flickered across her face like a hologram.
  • His smile was a sealed envelope.

Great Writing Is About Great Imagery

Whether you’re describing a smile or anything else in your writing, the key is using great imagery. Smiles lend themselves to visual imagery and creative descriptions of what they look like. You can also use tactile imagery to describe how it feels to smile a certain way. No matter what type of imagery you choose, a great smile description draws the reader into the story and makes your writing more powerful.